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Cultivating a resilient food future: FixOurFood’s collaboration with the Yorkshire Grain Alliance

Cultivating a resilient food future: FixOurFood’s collaboration with the Yorkshire Grain Alliance

By Ulrike Ehgartner

FixOurFood is dedicated to building a sustainable and resilient food future. With us on this journey is the Yorkshire Grain Alliance (YGA), a passionate group of farmers, bakers, millers, traders, researchers, and community members committed to transforming the food system through a fundamentally different approach to grain production and consumption.

Grains: Navigating environmental, economic and dietary challenges

With cereal production occupying about 70% of the total arable crop area in the UK, grains, and in particular wheat, play a crucial role in the nation’s food system. Grains also represent a staple in the British diet – both, through direct consumption, with wheat accounting for about 30% of our daily food energy intake, but also indirectly, with up to 60% of the country’s yearly harvest being fed to livestock, which we then consume as meat and dairy.

Grain production in the UK currently largely relies on intensive agriculture, which is solely focussed on yield efficiency, using fertilisers, pesticides, and diesel, leading to significant environmental impacts such as reduced biodiversity, soil damage, and pollution, which come at high economic costs and negative long-term effects on food security. Despite these issues, agroecological methods, which could mitigate these impacts, are severely underutilised, with organic production methods accounting for only about 1.6% of UK grain production overall.

Not only the environmental impacts, but also the social implications of our grain production, especially of wheat, are significant. The grain currently grown on a large scale on fields across the UK is mostly processed into foods with low nutritional value with a high occurrence of waste, or to feed livestock, which represents the most expensive input for the entire sector, causing extensive losses and vulnerabilities in the food supply chain, impacting both farming economies, diets and overall food security.

Given that the majority of the UK’s croppable land is used for grain production, we have to address the current food system inefficiency of it. Shifting towards more sustainable and resilient crops and agroecological methods to produce grains for human consumption is essential for economic and environmental resilience, and to foster a more secure, economically viable, and nutritionally valuable food system in the UK.

The Yorkshire Grain Alliance: cultivating change

The Yorkshire Grain Alliance was sparked by the vision of producers and practitioners who recognised the need for a more resilient and localised approach to grain production. The YGA’s mission is to encourage people to produce and consume non-commodity cereals, reducing our reliance on the global supply chain while promoting agroecological food production methods.

The Alliance’s work takes a holistic food systems approach with a commitment to diversity throughout the system, from farming and nature practices, to economy and trade and culinary variety. Members are committed to creating a resilient food future, putting an emphasis on low-input farming and solidarity between producers and consumers. The group fosters continued knowledge exchange between farmers, bakers and millers working with organically and agroecologically produced grains across Yorkshire.

Members of the YGA are pioneers, working with a diverse range of heritage- and population wheats, such as Emmer, Einkorn, April Bearded, Nelson, Parragon, and YQ. Introducing plant diversity, including genetic diversity, back to the land is essential for a food system transformation towards long-term food security. Such practice cultivates resilient crops that can better withstand regional challenges, pests, diseases, and changing environmental conditions, contributing to biodiversity preservation by maintaining a broader genetic pool and reducing the reliance on external inputs and promoting local sustainability. Rotating arable crops with varying root structures and nutrient requirements can further contribute to improved soil health and build climate resilience. Harnessed by bakers, chefs, and food manufacturers, diverse crops enhance nutritional diversity and flavours, providing consumers with a wider array of essential nutrients and a more varied and interesting culinary experience.

Collaboration with FixOurFood

FixOurFood’s collaboration with the Yorkshire Grain Alliance lies at the heart of our commitment to enabling place-based and community-driven food system transformation. We are working together, alongside the Organic Research Centre, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the unique aspects of producing diverse grain crops in Yorkshire. Taking a systems approach, we are continuously working on building knowledge and raising awareness of the market demands, considerations of climate and soil conditions, and other circumstances, which impact those involved along the supply chain: farmers and their choices of crops and farming methods, bakers their demands and interest in different flours, as well as professionals involved in institutional catering and food service. The collaboration also seeks to address the practical opportunities and challenges of scaling up low-input grain farming supply chains, specifically also looking at the food processing and distribution capacity in the region. Our shared vision revolves around shaping a future for Yorkshire’s food that is sustainable, social, and in tune with the seasons, starting with grains and transforming the whole system.

Join us on our journey: Get involved in reshaping the food system

If you are involved in the grain supply chain and/or want to learn more or contribute to our transformative journey, reach out to Ulrike Ehgartner, who is leading this collaboration in FixOurFood, or connect with the Yorkshire Grain Alliance directly. Your involvement is crucial in reshaping the future of our food system and to create a more sustainable, resilient, and locally-driven approach to grain production and consumption in Yorkshire and beyond.